David Gaughran

Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives

22 October 2017

From David Gaughran at Let’s Get Digital:

Phoenix Sullivan is well-known in the indie community – I’ve known her myself since 2009 or 2010 and consider her a close friend.

Aside from being exceptionally generous with her time and knowledge, tirelessly sharing her insights on marketing and algorithms, Phoenix is also well known as a vocal campaigner against scammers and cheaters – particularly on the current big issues of book stuffing and clickfarming.

And now she is being targeted.

Phoenix made a box set free for a few days at the very start of October, advertising on Freebooksy, KND/BookGorilla, and Digital Book Today – all legitimate sites – and there was no other promotion involved with this title. No BookBub CPM ads, no Facebook campaign, no tweets, no newsletter swaps, no mailing lists.

On the third day of her free run, Phoenix’s box set was rank-stripped by Amazon, a punishment normally reserved for those who have used clickfarms or bots. Phoenix reached out to Amazon to ask what was going on, but they only replied with a canned response accusing her of using artificial means to manipulate her rank.

Exactly one week later, they sent an automated mail with essentially the same content and implied threat:

We are reaching out to you because we detected purchases or borrows of your book(s) originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank.  As a result, the sales rank on the following book(s) will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.

Wild Hearts Box Set (Books 1 & 2 + Bonus Novella)(ASIN: B01MYP56J8)

Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your book(s) comply with our Terms and Conditions. We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services employed for promotional purposes.

Please be aware, any additional activity attempting to manipulate the Kindle services may result in account level action.

As I said, Phoenix is a close friend. I know her well and we are in contact almost every day. I know exactly what methods she uses to promote her books, and they are all legitimate. Her ethics are above reproach and she would never engage in any grey hat behavior, let alone go near the black hat territory of bots and clickfarms or mass gifting/incentivized purchasing.

In short, there is no possible way that Phoenix is guilty of any wrongdoing.

. . . .

Successive emails from her to KDP, the Compliance Team, and Executive Customer Relations achieved nothing other than repeated boilerplate about rank manipulation – accusing her of employing illicit methods to artificially inflate her downloads.

At least that’s what we think Amazon is accusing her of doing. In keeping with the general Kafkaesque vibe of the whole situation, Phoenix is being warned not to do it again, but in the half-dozen emails Phoenix has received on this issue, Amazon hasn’t explained what “it” means exactly, and has refused point blank to elaborate (my emphasis):

As we previously stated, we still detect purchases or borrows of your book(s) are originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. You are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your books comply with our Terms and Conditions.

We cannot offer advice on marketing services or details of our investigations.

Please be aware we will not be providing additional details.

This all unfolded while I was at NINC. I approached a senior Amazon person and explained the situation. He seemed genuinely concerned and said that he would investigate.

All that seemed to achieve was that the rank was eventually returned to Phoenix’s book fifteen days later, but her promo was ruined at that point and, most importantly, she is still being accused of rank manipulation and is on a warning as to her future conduct.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to T. for the tip.

The Visibility Gambit

6 September 2017

From David Gaughran at Let’s Get Digital:

Kindle Unlimited has received a fair bit of bad press over the last couple of years – some of it from me – but I want to balance that by looking at the positives.

Most pertinent is KU’s popularity with readers, meaning there can be huge opportunity for authors. Especially so if you make full use of the tools Amazon gives you, and understand that it’s all about visibility.

Enrolling in KU comes at a well-documented cost: exclusivity. But it’s the potential benefits I want to focus on today because some of that might be getting lost in the (well justified) complaints about scammers, transparency, and falling pay rates. Even though those rates have dropped by around 20% this year alone, KU is still paying out more dollars to indie authors than all non-Amazon retailers combined. And I think indies need to be selfish and do what’s best for them – whatever they decide that may be.

The other price of staying out of KU is arguably the bigger one: visibility. Each borrow is counted as a sale for rank purposes, and borrows can make up 50%-80% (or more) of a KU book’s rank – unless you are down in the telephone number rankings and invisible to everyone.

Borrows Cannibalizing Sales

When KU first launched the big debate among self-publishers was whether borrows would cannibalize sales – an important consideration when sales are more lucrative and puny humans tend to need food several times a day.

And it turns out they do, but of the books not enrolled in KU.

Think about it from the reader’s perspective, where the experience really is frictionless. Let’s say you have already shelled out for the KU subscription. You go scooting around the charts on Amazon looking for a new read and spot a few books that look interesting. One is $2.99, the next is $7.99, and the other is in KU. Which do you download?

The answer is obvious.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Scammers Break The Kindle Store

15 July 2017

From David Gaughran:

On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts.

The Kindle Store is officially broken.

This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed title also hit #1 in the Kindle Store. And Amazon took no action.

Over the last six weeks, one particularly brazen author has put four separate titles in the Top 10, and Amazon did nothing whatsoever. There are many such examples.

I wrote at the start of June about how scammers were taking over Amazon’s free charts. That post led to a phone conversation with KDP’s Executive Customer Relations.

Repeated assurances were given that the entire leadership team at Amazon was taking the scammer problem very seriously indeed. But it was also stressed that the problem wasn’t quite as bad as I was making out, and that this stuff never hits the charts and remains largely invisible to customers.

I explained in detail how none of those contentions were true, that readers are leaving angry reviews under these books, which regularly hit the charts, and further that KDP has singularly failed to act on 18 months-worth of complaints.

. . . .

Developments since then have made a mockery of the claim that this stuff doesn’t hit the charts as a book titled Dragonsoul by some unknown writer called Kayl Karadjian hit #1 in the store yesterday. The paid store, not free. Paid.

Authors immediately expressed skepticism – and for good reason. I don’t want to give a playbook on how to spot clickfarmed books, but this was a particularly obvious case. Dragonsoul had very few reviews. It had been out for 9 months with little or no sales history. There was no promo footprint either – it didn’t have ads on BookBub or elsewhere.

There was no Facebook campaign, the author only has 57 likes on his Facebook Page. In fact, the author seemed to have no platform at all – just a few dozen followers on Twitter, and no other discernible internet presence aside from a blog with 9 subscribers and a Patreon with no patrons.

Earlier yesterday, before its great leap forwards, Dragonsoul was languishing at #385,841 in the Kindle Store – meaning Kayl Karadjian was selling roughly one copy every fortnight or so.

And then he suddenly appeared at #1.

. . . .

As I explained in my post last month, unscrupulous authors and publishers are now adopting scammer tactics, and it’s pretty obvious this guy used a clickfarm to artificially borrow his book. Those fake borrows are equivalent to a sale for ranking purposes. A few thousand of them at the same time can be enough to put you at the top of the charts.

. . . .

Another author – who has been engaging in various shady tactics for years with impunity – has gatecrashed the Top 10 four times in the last six weeks using clickfarms. His books tend to immediately slink back to around 100,000 in the charts and don’t have Also Boughts weeks after publishing (meaning that he didn’t manage to rustle up 50 genuine sales yet – borrows don’t count towards Also Boughts).

On the same day that this clickfarmed book hit #1 on Amazon, KDP announced yet another drop in rates for Kindle Unlimited authors – and rates have been steadily dropping for some time now.

They are lower again in markets outside the US – countries like Australia, Germany, the UK, and Canada.

. . . .

Could these phenomena be linked? A huge uptick in scamming and a drop in KU payouts? Gee, I wonder.

. . . .

There is one thing puzzling to me, though. The secret sauce of Amazon’s success was always the store. While Amazon’s competitors raced to build flashier devices, Amazon’s genius was in understanding that if they had the #1 buyer experience and the #1 recommendation engine they would trounce the competition.

Amazon has spent millions and millions of dollars and man-hours in building the most trusted recommendations in the world. The charts themselves are massively popular discovery tools for readers – as any author will tell you who has appeared in the charts and enjoyed the sales spike that this visibility brings.

The sales rank that powers those charts feeds into the recommendation engine tons of ways, so that if you can engineer a sales spike, Amazon’s system will start selling your book for you.

But now Amazon is recommending scammer crap – undercutting the years and years of work it did building up customer trust.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to Lucy for the tip.

The €500 a year career: do Irish writers get paid enough?

6 February 2017

From The Irish Times:

Donal Ryan’s literary success story is one that most up-and-coming Irish authors – and many established ones – would love to emulate. How sobering it must be then for them to learn that the author is having to return to his full-time civil service job at the Workplace Relations Commission to pay his mortgage.

The arc of Ryan’s story has a fairytale quality – the 47 rejection letters from publishers before his novel The Spinning Heart was finally rescued from the slush pile in 2011 and went on to win a host of prizes including the Guardian First Book Award and Dublin Book Festival’s Irish Book of the Decade as well as being longlisted for the Booker and shortlisted for the Impac Dublin Literary Award.

Despite following up with three critically acclaimed and bestselling books in four years – The Thing about December, A Slanting of the Sun and All We Shall Know – the author revealed in a newspaper interview yesterday that his literary career has not had the traditional happy ending one might have expected.

“It’s nearly impossible to make a living as a writer,” he told the Sunday Independent. “You need to have something else on the go. You could take a chance and scrape a living through bursaries and writing books, but I’d get too stressed out. It just isn’t worth it. I have two kids in school and I have a mortgage to pay.”

“I reckon I get about 40c per book. So I would need to sell a huge amount of books to make a good salary out of that. I can’t complain. My publishers are fantastic. I have just signed a contract for three more books and my advances are really good but, still, I have to look at the long term and the fact that I have 20 more years of a mortgage, so you would need to sell a lot to earn a living from that alone.”

. . . .

“I thought Donal Ryan was incredibly brave to come out and lay out the realities of being a writer – because the public often has a very skewed view,” said author David Gaughran. “But I would like to talk about the publisher in this scenario. I’ve no issue at all with Lilliput Press, I actually like them a lot, but the system as a whole needs to be examined.

“Everyone in the publishing chain claims to be broke. Publishers always say this is a low margin business. Agents have greater and greater trouble placing books. Booksellers, of course, are constantly feeling the pinch. But publishing as a whole is huge, generating $125bn in global sales every year. Where does all that money go? Why are authors paid so poorly? Contracts are terrible across the board – the system is designed that way. But it can change and it has to change.”

Link to the rest at The Irish Times and thanks to Alexis for the tip.

How The London Book Fair Helps Vanity Presses Exploit Newbie Authors

22 September 2016

From David Gaughran:

The most prestigious event in the UK publishing calendar, the London Book Fair, welcomes predatory operators with open arms, deliberately positions them opposite author events for extra cash, and then helps to whitewash their reputation – even running misleading interviews and puff pieces on its own website to help them get more leads.

I’ve been campaigning against vanity presses and author exploitation for five years now, and one thing that became apparent is the key role of book fairs and industry events in this mess.

Vanity presses are always keen to appear at these events because it:

  • lends their seamy enterprise an air of legitimacy to inexperienced authors who don’t know better;
  • gives them direct access to a pool of newbie authors attending the events; and,
  • creates an opportunity to sell various products to their users such as book signing services and book display packages costing thousands of dollars.

. . . .

I called the London Book Fair this morning posing as a potential exhibitor called Arthur Kerr (sorry, couldn’t help it). Actually, the person I dealt with so nice and helpful that I felt terrible for the subterfuge, but I needed to establish some key points:

  1. It costs more to exhibit near the Author HQ, especially directly opposite same.
  2. Part of the deal (costing several thousand pounds) is a marketing package which includes “lead generation” – marketing speak for “we will deliver even more authors into your clutches.”
  3. No vetting whatsoever is done of exhibitors – even those who explicitly state they are engaged in author services and wish to take a stand directly opposite Author HQ. There were more questions about how many chairs I would like than what my “company” actually did (a big fat zero on the latter).

You might have guessed all of this already, but it was good to get it confirmed: the London Book Fair has absolutely no problem with exploitative author services being positioned where most writers will congregate.

Link to the rest at Let’s Be Digital

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books. If you like what an author has written, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Author Solutions: behind the headlines

27 February 2016

From The Bookseller:

In January Penguin Random House sold its self-publishing business Author Solutions to US investor Najafi. The sale, PRH said, reaffirmed its “focus on consumer book publishing”, but it also felt like a conscious uncoupling from a relationship that was still awaiting consummation.

Penguin bought AS in July 2012 for $116m (£74m), in an effort to take a stake in the growing self- publishing market. At the time, Penguin’s then-c.e.o. John Makinson said “self-publishing has moved into the mainstream of our industry”. He wanted Penguin to “gain skills in customer acquisition and data analytics that will be vital to our future”.The Bookseller said that it was “the day self-publishing came of age”.

Yet if the acquisition made sense in theory, the reality was somewhat mixed. Circumstance was not on its side from the very beginning. The deal between AS and Penguin came only a few months before Penguin-owner Pearson and Bertelsmann, owner of Random House, went public with their decision to combine the trade publishing units. In retrospect some now interpret the AS deal as a way of adding ballast to Penguin at a time when Random House had its own “self- publishing” business: Fifty Shades.

Meanwhile, AS faced its own internal distractions. In May 2013, c.e.o. Kevin Weiss departed, succeeded by Andrew Phillips, then president of Delhi-based Penguin International. In the same month, both AS and Penguin found themselves the subject of a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York by three authors who claimed to have been misled by AS (Penguin was later dismissed from the claim). The lawsuit added to the suggestions that AS operated at the murkier end of the vanity market, encouraging authors to sign up to “packages” costing thousands of dollars for services that failed to deliver. The lawsuit claimed AS was a “printing service that fails to maintain even the most rudimentary standards of book publishing, profiting not for its authors but from them”.

AS contested the suits, but the complaints did not come out of the blue. At the time of the Penguin deal, Kate Pool, deputy secretary-general of the Society of Authors in the UK, called the move by Penguin “absolutely extraordinary” and “worrying”. Others had less polite terms: the writer and blogger David Gaughran, who has written extensively about vanity presses—and in particular Author Solutions—says AS operates a “two-bit internet scam”. The Booksellerstopped taking advertising from AS in 2014.

. . . .

[Author Solutions CEO Andrew] Phillips says that much of what is written about AS online is incorrect: “You shouldn’t believe everything you read, particularly on social media. There are stories that circulate that, when you look at them, are not true.” When asked to give an example, he highlights two online commentators— Japet Villamro and Karen Turner— both of whom claim to have worked for AS and who have left critical comments about the company on author blogs. Phillips says the business has no record of these individuals. He adds “just because someone is posting a comment on social media or claims to be an employee, that is not always the case, and when we can actually make contact with a real author, any concerns they have are usually addressed to their satisfaction”.

Phillips says much of the criticism comes from individual authors or author groups that are opposed to the assisted-publishing route. “We try to remain focused on what we do very well, regardless of that social media noise. Having said that, we have engaged, and if any of those parties wanted to have a reasonable conversation then we would engage again, but it seems that [some of them] don’t want to have a balanced conversation. I do think there is a fairly entrenched position with some parties which is: ‘There is only one route, and you shouldn’t have to pay.’ I don’t believe that. My view is that authors should have a choice.”

. . . .

In addition to its own imprints, AS runs a number of partner imprints with traditional publishers, including: Archway Publishing with Simon & Schuster; Balboa Press, a division of Hay House; LifeRich Publishing, an imprint of Reader’s Digest; and WestBow Press, a division of HarperCollins’ businesses Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.

Internationally, it operates Partridge in India, South Africa and Singapore with Penguin Random House; it runs Megustaescribir with PRH Grupo Editorial in Barcelona, for authors writing in Spanish; in Germany it operates GABAL Global Editions with German publisher GABAL, offering US market exposure for German authors; and in Australia it runs Balboa Press Aus.

Each individual publisher partner is able to tailor the packages. Archway, for example, offers attendance to an author reception at BookExpo America for those packages costing more than $4,999. Phillips does not believe—as for example the SoA does—that the association with a traditional publisher is misleading for authors, rather that it means those publishers can offer authors a positive alternative path to publication.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller and thanks to David for the tip.

Here are some excerpts from the comments to this post:

From David Gaughran:

Here is the actual quote I gave to Philip Jones:

Author Solutions has had plenty of opportunities over the years to respond to its critics or address the ever-present issues with its service, but it has always refused to acknowledge any problems. Andrew Phillips himself was given the chance, at his own request, to engage with the Alliance of Independent Authors back in 2014. Instead, he repeated blandishments from press releases and, indeed, has taken no action since then on all the issues raised: http://selfpublishingadvice.or…

I don’t believe that Author Solutions or Andrew Phillips have any genuine interest in reform but I’d be delighted if they proved me wrong by immediately taking steps to remedy some of the worst behaviour – such as the relentless high-pressure flogging of over-priced and ineffective marketing packages, or the dishonest methods it uses to ensnare writers. An example: Author Solutions runs a number of faux-comparison sites like FindYourPublisher.co.uk – which purport to give authors independent advice but merely act as funnels to Author Solutions.

There are problems with all aspects of Author Solutions operations but practices surrounded marketing packages are the most egregious. The products are of questionable efficacy to begin with and are then sold at insane mark-ups. Author Solutions charges $859 for a “Hollywood Review” of a book’s potential for film/screen adaptation, and then farms it out to Craigslist freelancers for just $110. The same crazy mark-ups can be seen in the selling of “web optimized” press releases which cost $1,299, book signings for $3,999, or podcast interviews for $10,669. These practices are simply indefensible and could be stopped tomorrow.

From Orna Ross:

I’m afraid ASI’s hard-sales environment and poor customer service is in no way reflected in this article, in which Andrew is given so much room to talk about his company’s plans and, once again, fails to engage with the author community’s widespread concern.

As well as David Gaugran’s tireless investigation of this issue, many other author advocates — notably Jim Giammatteo, Victoria Strauss, Mick Rooney, John Doppler Schiff, Ben Galley, Emily Seuss, Helen Sedwick as well as I, and the Alliance of Independent Authors’s Watchdog Desk — have all spoken out against practices at ASI.

None of these busy authors is motivated by anything other than a wish to see other authors served well by publishing services, not harassed by sales calls and sold a dream dressed up in expensive packages (see below). We continue to get severe complaints about ASI all the time. I — and others — have told Andrew this. He has displayed no interest in changing practices or addressing author community concern.

ALLi is not opposed to author services — on the contrary, we have a partner membership for good services — but we do warn authors away from services that over-promise, over-charge and under-deliver.

Below are some extracts from a long sales email from one of ASI’s UK imprints, reproduced with permission of the 85-year-old author who contacted our Watchdog Desk, upset and confused having been bombarded with calls urging her to take a “Hollywood package”. The email exchange reveals, clearer than anything I can say, the values at play in this company.

I hope that Andrew will make himself available in this comment box for discussion of the issues. They are serious and they need to be addressed.

With thanks
Orna
Director, Alliance of Independent Authors

AUTHOR: “At the beginning of this year Author House were trying to persuade me to pay for a screenwrite for xxxxx, a book they had published. I thought it was a scam and said so despite the amazing number of times a consultant tried to persuade me. Now his boss has found and liked xxxx (another of the author’s books) so I was treated to another hour of hard sell. I said..I needed something in writing… so they sent the enclosed e-mail… I am a pensioner and not wealthy, I cannot throw money away on a pipe dream… Is this film suggestion a scam? Should I be tempted? Your knowledge of the publishing industry is invaluable. Could I ask your advice please?”

Extracts from the letter to the Author from Author House (spelling & grammar preserved):

ASI: Good Day!

I trust that this e-mail finds you well. First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the call earlier and it was my pleasure to speak about your book. …I hope you agree with me on this that the book’s potential is not just limited to publishing retail industry but even more to Hollywood movie industry…

I know that this book needs this big push so that we could help you with your book’s success. That is the reason why we are doing this. We have carefully analyzed each marketing avenue and we are confident that this would surely provide your book the best possible way to be noticed not just by ordinary person, not just by highly interested individuals but even for those who are decision makers and major executives in the movie industry.

I am suggesting that we do these to create huge and essential noise for your book. Let us win the attention of the major movie companies… As promised, I am sending you detailed plan of the extensive marketing we are willing to provide you and your book.

-COMPLETE MARKETING SET-UP FOR YOUR BOOK TARGETING HOLLYWOOD DECISION MAKERS

-TRANSFORMATION OF THE BOOK TO A COMPLETE MOVIE/MARKET READY PROJECT

-PROFESSIONAL REPRESENTATION TO A+ HOLLYWOOD COMPANIES

-PROFESSIONAL RECOMMENDATION TO HOLLYWOOD EXECUTIVES AND DECISION MAKERS

With Hollywood Director’s Cut package you can seize the initiative with a compelling bundle of services designed to turn heads and get a few crucial nods from film and TV executives in the highly competitive entertainment industry…

I highly recommend that we give your book this rare opportunity be represented well in the industry. I have seen a lot of good titles failed to thrive in this industry not because it was not good enough but simply because the authors fail to see the potential of the book and this is the one thing that I want to prevent. You, of all people, know the value of your book. And your book deserves this huge marketing exposure. The Books-to Screen Hollywood program is by far the most unique and powerful marketing tool the company has introduced to it’s authors. I suggest you take this campaign.


Timing? Never been better, it is the best time to make them see the true essence of your work. Also, movie companies now is in very much in dire need of new concepts, that is the main reason why they are now turning their focus on self publishing authors.

I know how important this project of yours is to you and I would like to tap in these important people to have the book be taken seriously. Not to mention that it will be our company doing the job of an agent for you and the leg work as well, without asking any cut from it. Thus, you will enjoy full control and registration under your name and 100% revenue going your way.

All for the best,

RONALD REESE

Senior Marketing Consultant

AuthorHouseUK

The One Where An Author Steals Text From My Book To Sell Pirated Software

13 January 2016

From David Gaughran:

In today’s episode we are going to out a two-bit huckster who tried to put one over on yours truly, take a quick detour through the verdant fields of copyright law (and the slightly plainer meadows of moral rights), and then end with an example of how to handle a scammer.

Sound fun? Strap yourselves in!

A helpful reader – who will remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious – emailed me yesterday morning. I was just about to start work but the subject line caught my attention: Did You Give Permission For This?

Uh oh. I started reading the message he had forwarded.

It had originated from a domain called IndieWriterSupport.com (you can cut-and-paste that address or Google it, but I’m not linking directly and giving them an SEO boost). And it appeared to be a straight cog from my book Let’s Get Visible.

What was going on here? I kept reading.

At the end of this considerable (2,411 word!) chunk from Let’s Get Visible some text had been added promoting a product called KDSPY – which is the new name for what was previously known as Kindle Spy.

There was then a bit.ly link to purchase KDSPY, which suspiciously went direct to a PayPal purchase page rather than the site of KDSPY, followed by another call-to-action asking people to visit IndieWriterSupport.com – the same domain as the one which had sent the email.

To be clear: I have never used Kindle Spy, let alone endorsed it, and I certainly didn’t write about it in Let’s Get Visible – I think the product wasn’t even launched until a year after I published that book – and I hadn’t written about it anywhere else for that matter. I’d also never heard of the website sending the email, nor given them permission to use my work.

. . . .

What I do have is a layman’s familiarity with legal concepts pertaining to my profession and knew straight away that this guy was breaching my copyright, and probably my moral rights as an author too. The first should be obvious, although there is an interesting wrinkle worth pointing out in case you find yourself in a similar situation.

When I released Let’s Get Visible, I did a few guest posts to promote the launch. One of those was on the blog of ALLi – the Alliance of Independent Authors. The post was essentially an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Let’s Get Visible, the one dealing with Amazon’s category system and explaining how to optimize your category metadata.

ALLi had permission to run that excerpt, but that doesn’t stop that work (and those words in particular) being protected under copyright, and doesn’t give carte blanche for anyone else to use it either.

And, while the definition of “Fair Use” is regularly debated, and defined differently by different jurisdictions and, it seems, different judges, it’s quite clear that this doesn’t fall under any definition or interpretation of Fair Use, especially given that they excerpted the entire chapter and were using it for clear commercial purposes.

. . . .

This “publisher” appears to have been operating since 2013. I found a complaints online dating from then, slamming it for being a crappy vanity press which charges reading fees.

. . . .

The Kindle Spy team were great. I emailed them via their contact page and got a response right away. They were extremely helpful and in a position to confirm two surprising things. First, this guy wasn’t a Kindle Spy affiliate. Second, they reckoned this was the same guy they were already chasing – someone had pirated their software and was selling unauthorized copies of same.

. . . .

[M]y personal favorite where he actually trots out the E word:

Request granted!

Link to the rest at David Gaughran

David also points out a discussion of this organization on Absolute Write.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books. If you appreciate his work in pointing out scams targeting authors, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

FYI: Penguin Random House Is Still In The Vanity Business

7 January 2016

From David Gaughran:

Penguin Random House announced the sale of Author Solutions on Tuesday, leading to headlines stating it has exited the self-publishing business and various commentators congratulating it for cleaning house. Unfortunately, neither of those things are true.

Four Penguin Random House-owned vanity presses will remain in operation – Partridge India, Partridge Singapore, Partridge Africa, and MeGustaEscribir – and will be run as Partner Imprints. You can read more about how Partner Imprints work here, but the short version is that Author Solutions will operate these four vanity presses on behalf of Penguin Random House, and PRH’s job will be to provide leads (aka newbie writers), lend its name and brand to the effort, and then sit back and collect its commissions.

This is precisely how Author Solutions operates Archway Publishing on behalf of Simon & Schuster, Westbow for HarperCollins, and Balboa Press for Hay House, among others. In short, Penguin Random House is still in the vanity business, it’s just flying under the radar – along with many more famous names in the industry.

. . . .

These troublesome little details were overlooked by the press who were keen to trumpet Penguin Random House’s move. Indeed, it has been quite revealing watching the reaction unfold.

When Penguin purchased Author Solutions in 2012 for $116m, virtually all the press had the same angle: Penguin was making a smart move into the fast-growing world of self-publishing. No mention was made of the controversial business practices of Author Solutions, or that the giant vanity press resembled a viable self-publishing platform much in the way a glass of hydrochloric acid is a recommended way to cleanse after the holidays.

Fast forward to 2016, and suddenly Author Solutions has become “controversial” and even “toxic” – and selling the company is being hailed as an even smarter move. But what happened in-between 2012 and 2016? What did Author Solutions do to become toxic or controversial? Why was purchasing the company seen as smart in 2012, but getting rid of it was seen as even smarter in 2016?

Readers of this blog will be fully aware, but readers elsewhere will have no idea whatsoever because the press refused to cover the story. Indeed, in most publications, the only stories they ran on Author Solutions in the last four years were the purchase and the sale – no mention whatsoever of its awful business practices, the widespread protests from the author community, even the class actions.

. . . .

One line being pushed by publishing professionals is that Random House somehow accidentally inherited Author Solutions in the Penguin merger. I can picture CEO Markus Dohle pinching his nose as he made the head of Author Solutions part of his global executive team – obviously under some kind of duress.

More seriously, it’s patently ridiculous to make this claim. Penguin Random House happily continued the aggressive international expansion of Author Solutions commenced by Penguin – even to the point of opening a vanity press right in the offices of Random House Spain and pimping out its editors to sell 4,000 Euro evaluation reports.

Let’s also not forget what then-Penguin CEO John Makinson said when purchasing the company in 2012. “We spent time getting to know the people at Author Solutions and their sophisticated operation,” Makinson said. “They have skills that can help us at Penguin.”

His current job? Chairman of Penguin Random House.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

PG says David’s persistent and ongoing investigation into Author Solutions’ various and sundry swindles of the unwary is a great service to authors everywhere.

PG commented when Penguin acquired Author Solutions, the acquisition was a clear signal of how Big Publishing really regards authors.

 

Authors Guild Dumps Author Solutions (And Pretends It Was All A Bad Dream)

30 May 2015

From David Gaughran:

The Authors Guild – which bills itself as America’s leading writers’ organization – has terminated its partnership with Author Solutions.

The Authors Guild joins companies like Bowker, Writers’ Digest, and Crossbooks in cutting links to Author Solutions – a company which has faced a sustained campaign from writers targeting its deceptive and exploitative practices, as well as multiple class actions which are still working their way through the courts.

. . . .

The announcement was made yesterday at Book Expo America, but the Authors Guild decided to bury its own lede. No mention is made of Author Solutions, just a brief mention of the subsidiary which the Authors Guild was partnered with: iUniverse. If I hadn’t been waiting for this announcement, I would have missed it.

It’s almost as if the Authors Guild is trying to airbrush its partnership with Author Solutions from the history books. As if it was all just a bad dream.

. . . .

None of this stopped the Authors Guild renewing its partnership with Author Solutions in 2008, and again in 2011. As an organization purporting to represent its members best interests, surely it would have been aware of the terrible reputation of Author Solutions companies, and how much service levels at iUniverse had deteriorated. Was there another reason why the Authors Guild was so reluctant to terminate this partnership?

. . . .

If you want to verify any of this information, it has all now been wiped from the Authors Guild’s BackInPrint.com website… but the internet never forgets.

. . . .

Things get more bizarre the more you look around. BackInPrint.com had a humorous eligibility requirement. It would only publish work by Authors’ Guild members (understandable), and

Only books that have been previously published by an established U.S. publishing house (no vanity presses or self-published) are eligible.

Wut? That makes no sense at all! It’s like an Irish pub with a “No Irish” sign in the window.

. . . .

I could go on and on about how terrible a publishing option this was – how metadata was routinely screwed up, how the books were overpriced and in the wrong categories, how crappy the covers were because members could only choose between three colors, how Author Solutions’ sales reps attempted to upsell worthless marketing packages, how iUniverse published digital editions of members’ books without permission – but the key point is that publishing with iUniverse was the only self-publishing method recommended by the Authors Guild.

. . . .

I could go on and on about how terrible a publishing option this was – how metadata was routinely screwed up, how the books were overpriced and in the wrong categories, how crappy the covers were because members could only choose between three colors, how Author Solutions’ sales reps attempted to upsell worthless marketing packages, how iUniverse published digital editions of members’ books without permission – but the key point is that publishing with iUniverse was the only self-publishing method recommended by the Authors Guild.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Digging Deeper Into Author Earnings

27 May 2015

From Phoenix Sullivan via David Gaughran:

The Author Earnings team are attempting to do something which hasn’t been done before, and their work can’t be refined and improved unless there is some intelligent criticism of their approach and findings.

Today I’ve invited Phoenix Sullivan to blog on the topic. I’ve known Phoenix for a few years now, and if there’s a smarter person in publishing, I haven’t heard of them.

KBoards regulars will already know that Phoenix understands the inner workings of the Kindle Store better than anyone outside Amazon.

. . . .

I set aside some time recently to dive into the Author Earnings raw data for the May 1, 2015 Report. The irksome thing about the scraped data is how much of the puzzle that is Amazon’s ebook sales is missing and/or open to interpretative analysis. It isn’t the data’s fault or even the fault of the collection method. It’s simply that the data made public is limited, which in turn means a lot of creative interpretation goes into even so simple a task as coming up with the number of ebooks sold in a day. While the raw data itself isn’t changeable, different tools and assumptions applied to the data can yield different results, thereby opening up the analysis to differing interpretations.

My goal was to apply a set of tools and assumptions that update and possibly correct those being used by the Author Earnings team. The environment has changed dramatically in the 15 months since the first report came out, yet the analytical tools, in my opinion, haven’t necessarily kept up with the times. That in itself does not mean the results are wrong, but without a challenge to them, we’ll never know, right?

. . . .

By far the biggest assumptive correction I’ve made is two-fold: The first part is applying a new set of sales:rank calculations to the dataset and the second part is applying calculations to maintain ranks rather than using the multipliers needed to hit a rank. Let’s be clear that these multipliers are observed only, and best guesses across a lot of observations. However, I do believe the multipliers currently being used by AE are 1) outdated, and 2) don’t reflect the actual number of sales happening for the majority of books that are maintaining rank in the store and not seeing huge rank swings on a day-to-day basis.

. . . .

Amazon’s algorithms take historical sales – among other variables, such as velocity – into consideration when calculating rank. The longer a title remains around a given rank, the fewer sales it takes to maintain that rank. Observably, anywhere from 10-50% fewer sales. That means the multipliers for hitting ranks are not good indicators of unit sales numbers for the majority of books in the dataset. Here is my observed chart for average sales to maintain rank, along with the old and new numbers for hitting rank. More work needs to be done to fill in the upper brackets on the maintain side. I used the same numbers from my Sales to Hit chart when I felt I didn’t have enough data points on the Maintain side to chart new numbers in, but the safe assertion is that the Top 500 in my own data is over-reporting by a conservative 10%.

a1sales-rank
. . . .

Integrating KU into the reporting back in July dialed the difficulty of analyzing the data up into the stratosphere. Unread – and therefore unpaid – borrows influence rank across all titles. There’s no way to know how many borrows eventually become paid reads. And there’s no way to calculate how many units moved on any given title were at full price and how many were borrows, either paid or unpaid. Self-reported numbers suggest the split of paid sales to paid borrows is about 50:50 (which still doesn’t account for the unread borrows that inflate rank), which is what the AE Reports use as well. Using the Maintain chart above, I rejiggered all the numbers. The adjusted royalties may well still be inflated, but are, I think, a closer approximation. The difference for the dataset is a statistically significant 21.4% spread in dollars (or the $400 million difference between $1.81 and $1.42 billion per year):

  • $4,957,365 – original AE result for all earnings
  • $4,848,116 – AE results with the new modeling applied
  • $3,895,691 – my adjusted estimate

and for the KU amounts specifically:

  • $167,687 – AE results for borrows with the new modeling applied
  • $144,201 – my estimate
  • 252,161 – AE estimate for total number of KU units sold/borrowed using the Maintain calculations for Indies + Uncategorized
  • 216,410 – my estimate

. . . .

Since the AE Report looks at aggregated totals over individual sales and positions itself as one factor for authors to consider when deciding which path to publishing to pursue, I decided to see what each book averaged in each publishing path. There are pie charts below, but let’s also use words to be sure the picture is clear either way it’s expressed. If we look at gross sales, we see that the Big 5 had only about 50% of the number of titles available in the dataset than indies had. Big 5 books sold about 78% of the number of books indies sold and made more than twice as much. A lot of that goes into Publisher and Amazon pockets, but what does that really mean? The charts show that indie authors in aggregate earned about 25% more than Big 5 authors. In other words, it took almost 50% more available indie books to earn their authors 25% more than Big 5 authors.

. . . .

From the above, we can say that while market share may have eroded for the Big 5, gross sales plateau’d between Jan and May. Losing market share is not the same as bleeding money. Besides, the ebook market – discrete from the general publishing market – is relatively new. The Big 5 were never part of that market until it became lucrative enough to play in, and only once indies were invited into the market did it start to burgeon. Notbecause of indies, but the timing is inseparable. Big 5 never dominated the market, and a few deviation points here and there doesn’t mean it’s losing the market. And while percentage charts are pretty to look at, they don’t always describe an accurate picture. Ebooks, for instance, have lured a certain percentage of customers away from the used-books market. The Big 5 were not in the used-book market before and their models don’t include that market now.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to SFR and several others for the tip.

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